Like other Palestinian national days, Land Day commemorations are less about the historical event as they are reminders of things happening today. Despite years of active struggles, Palestinians are finding themselves protesting the same threats to their land rights in 2014 as they were in 1976.
March 30 marks the 38th anniversary of Land Day, which commemorates the mass Palestinian demonstrations against Israel’s sweeping confiscation of Arab lands in the Galilee in 1976. But like other Palestinian national days, the commemorations are less about the historical event as they are reminders of things that are happening today. Despite years of active struggles as second-class Israeli citizens, an occupied population or exiled refugees, Palestinians are finding themselves protesting the same threats to their land rights in 2014 as they were in 1976.
This is neither a nationalist nor ideological statement. Since 1948, the state has aggressively expropriated and minimized Palestinian lands and properties and transferred them to exclusive Jewish ownership. But rather than correcting its policies to realize the historical, human and civil rights of Palestinians to the land, the discriminatory practices have intensified. An alarming rise in forced displacement, unequal distribution and racist laws that target the land rights of Palestinians both in Israel and the Occupied Territories show that the state’s priorities continue to lie more with its ethno-nationalist ambitions than with the rights of non-Jews inside its borders, let alone the viability of peace with the Palestinians.
The last year alone demonstrates the severity of this vision. In 2013, at least 572 homes and structures belonging to Arab Bedouin citizens in the Negev were demolished, many of them destroyed by residents themselves due to threats of financial charges by state authorities. The number of demolitions in the occupied Jordan Valley doubled in 2013, with 390 structures destroyed compared to 172 in 2012. Dozens of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem also face the same threats to their homes. This means that hundreds of Palestinians every year, half of whom are children, are being forcibly displaced on both sides of the Green Line regardless of their citizenship or basic rights.
The demolitions of these homes have little to do with security or the rule of law and more to do with the state’s belief that a person’s race defines their rights. For example, according to a new data analysis by Adalah, in 2013 the state offered more land tenders for housing, industrial and commercial zones to Jewish settlements in the West Bank than it did to all Arab towns inside Israel, despite the Arab citizenry constituting two to three times the population of Jewish settlers and despite the global demand to halt Israeli construction in the Occupied Territories. Other examples of discriminatory resource allocation include the support for rural Jewish but not Arab villages in the Negev, the explicit policy to increase the Jewish demographic presence in the Galilee, and the selling of Palestinian refugee property even in occupied East Jerusalem.
The same racially based objectives have persisted through all of Israel’s successive governments, and ironically, have worsened since the peace process began. In recent years, the Israeli Knesset has drafted new laws and bills to support communal segregation, legalize racial discrimination in housing and add obstacles to any Israeli withdrawals from occupied territories. These include the Admissions Committees Law, the Contributors to the State Bill, the Land Concessions Law and the Prawer Plan Bill. These laws are aimed at entrenching the state’s vision in the face of growing local and international challenges to its increasingly racist actions. The peace talks may have returned, but the state’s plans have not changed.
These discriminatory policies, which far exceed the few examples mentioned here, are rooted in the ideology that the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River must be prioritized for Jewish control, at the deliberate expense of other inhabitants. It is the reason why Arab villages like Umm el-Hieran will be destroyed to build Jewish towns over their ruins. It is the reason why Palestinians in neighborhoods in Sheikh Jarrah, Akka and Hebron are being pressured by right-wing settlers, corporations and police. It is the reason why Palestinian towns both in Israel and the Occupied Territories cannot expand to meet their residents’ growing needs for new homes, schools, roads and other basic infrastructure. And it is the reason why 38 years after the first Land Day protests, Palestinians are finding new reasons to mark March 30th. Until the state accepts that non-Jews have an equal – and not inferior – right to be on the land, Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line will continue to commemorate Land Day for years to come.
Amjad Iraqi is a Projects & Advocacy Coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Adalah.